Jonathan Philips is a prolific historian of the Crusades who has written a series of accessible syntheses covering the period from the First through the Fourth Crusades. The volume under review is the expanded second edition of the original, which was published by Longman in 2002; and its style, layout, structure, and tone clearly mark it as intended for the undergraduate course-book market. In it, Phillips has set out to expand certain sections of the original work, to incorporate more material and information from the Arabo-Islamic perspective, and to provide a fuller context for the phenomenon (xii). That said, this remains very much a conventional treatment of the Crusades, analyzed primarily from the perspective of the European Crusaders, and focusing almost exclusively on the Crusades in the Islamic Eastern Mediterranean.
The book is organized in fourteen chapters with chronologically arranged narrative chapters punctuated by thematic chapters and bracketed by an introduction and--by way of conclusion--an assessment of the impact of the Crusades. These are supplemented by an array of ancillary and reference materials, including a chronology, basic genealogical trees of the rulers of Antioch and Jerusalem, and a simple map of the Levant and Europe, a "Who's Who," of major individuals, a substantial (fifty-three page) appendix of illustrative documents in translation, as well as a generous number of monochrome illustrations.
In the introduction Phillips notes the profound impact of the Crusades in the East on both the Arabic and Anglo-European imagination from the era itself up to today, and then proceeds to a rapid review of the modern historiography, nodding to the recent impact of archaeology, and to the growing body of work that views the Crusades from the Islamic perspective (which is to say, the perspective of Crusade-era Muslims, rather than modern Muslim historians). A six-page historical summary takes the reader up to the Europe of 1095.
The main narrative gets underway in chapter 2, with Urban II's speech at Clermont, and hops quickly to the conquest of Jerusalem. Chapter 3 takes the story up to the fall of Edessa to Zengi and the troubled regency of Melisende, by way of the Norman-Byzantine struggle over Antioch. The next chapter looks at Frankish colonization and interaction with indigenous peoples, surveying the various ethno-religious groups, and their place in and reaction to the new Frankish order. Both urban and rural environments are considered. The fifth chapter reviews the origins and early history of the Military Orders, focusing on the Templars and Hospitallers. Chapter 6, on the Second Crusade, takes a wider view, including the Iberian Peninsula and the Baltic, before recapitulating the disastrous campaign in the East. Next, a short twelve-page chapter surveys the tactics of warfare. Chapters 8 and 9 focus on the period of pax Byzantina that characterized most of the third quarter of the twelfth century, together with the dynastic tensions that plagued the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and are follow by a chapter on religious life that focusses primarily on Frankish pilgrimage. Those dynastic tensions came to a head precisely as the Seljuq west was united under the power of Salah al-Din. His victory of 1187 and the Frankish response in the form of the Third Crusade are covered in the next chapters. Finally, the narrative concludes with the Fourth Crusade: ostensibly called to restore the Holy Land to Christian rule, but ultimately deployed by the Venetians against the King of Hungary and against Constantinople--an "improbable and tragic victory" (201)--as opposed, it might be noted, to "the remarkable achievement" borne of "incredible determination" that the capture of Jerusalem and the massacre of its inhabitants had been in 1099 (33). The book concludes with a short essay on the impact of the Crusades, which is chiefly seen in terms of the Crusades' own evolution into a political as well as a religious venture. The lasting impact on the Muslim Near East seems to have been null.
For Phillips it was the campaign to Constantinople that brought the first and formative era of Frankish crusading to the end: a logical enough choice. After this point, one might argue, Jerusalem was no longer really the focus of the enterprise. Crafting a summary of a phenomenon as complex and multi-faced as the Crusades in this period in only two hundred pages certainly represents a challenge, particularly if one strives, as Phillips does, to broaden the context and include thematic chapters. And to this extent the book is a success--he hits most of the most important events and trends, and peppers it with some color and detail. That said, this is certainly a traditional Frankish perspective of the venture, and the author's choice of what to include and what to omit may not suit all tastes. One might have expected to have more of the pre-1095 background; there was a lot going on in both in the Latin West and the Mediterranean leading up to the Crusade that had little to do with Clermont. More detail on Frankish factionalism and on relations with both the Islamic world and Byzantium might have been welcome. He does not have time to say much about culture. Tensions with Byzantium also have deeper and more complex roots that Phillips sketches out in the chapter on the Fourth Crusade, and more emphasis on the economic and commercial relations of that developed over the course of the Crusades might have pointed towards a more significant legacy that one he presents in the conclusion.
The market for synoptic treatments of the Crusades is something of a crowded field. The history of the Franks on crusade has been so written on and wrung dry that this is hardly a genre in which one should expect anything too earth-shattering, unpredictable, or provocative, and here one is certainly not disappointed. It is clearly and economically written, and will give students a solid overview of the phenomenon without overburdening them with details they may not necessarily appreciate or require. Although there are many similar books to choose from, Phillips' The Crusades would certainly serve well either as a supplementary text for a medieval survey course, or as the textbook for a lower-level undergraduate Crusades course, particularly if the instructor were to flesh out the narrative considerably with contextual material, further readings, and non-European approaches and perspectives.